Eating Mindfully: One Bite at a Time
Written By: Elizabeth Fay, MS, RD, CSPCC, LD, CNSC
Registered Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Pediatric Critical Care, Certified Nutrition Support Clinician
What does eating mindfully mean? Eating mindfully encourages you to be aware of your meal, surroundings (including any distractions), appetite, pace, and emotions at meal and snack time. All of these components help shape us to be more mindful at each meal and snack. Eating mindfully not only helps us meet our nutrition goals, but it provides surprising benefits, such as promoting meal enjoyment and gratification. Today we’re going to focus on the pace of our meals and how being mindful of our pace can help us to meet our nutrition goals.
In a world of convenience and fast-paced schedules, our meals tend to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. Convenience, take-out, increased commutes, and busy schedules have all led us to speed up our meal and snack times. Many people find themselves eating on the go more than ever before. We may eat in the car, while running in-between errands, during a family member’s sports event, or throughout the workday. Unfortunately, getting more time to spend at meals isn’t always the easiest, but understanding the importance of being mindful wherever your mealtime occurs, may encourage you to make mindfulness your priority.
No matter where your meal or snack takes you, whether it’s on the go or sitting down at the family dinner table, time plays an important role. Firstly, our appetite and hormones depend on the duration of our meal. It takes time for our digestive system to send fullness signals to our brain, telling us that we’re no longer hungry. If we eat our meal very quickly, that fullness cue may not be received yet. If our brain still thinks we’re hungry and we don’t feel full, then we may venture for additional servings of our meal before those hormone signals get to their final destination. However, if we take our time at our meals and allow our hunger/fullness signals to work, then we can accurately assess if our body needs to be nourished with additional servings. If we take 20-30 minutes to complete a meal and we are still feeling hungry afterward, then we know our bodies our telling us that we need more nourishment.
By slowing down our eating pace at meals, we’re able to savor our meals and really enjoy the hard work and money spent on the meal. Take note of the flavors, aromas, colors, temperatures, and textures. Do these characteristics change from the beginning to the end of the meal? Can you brainstorm how you will prepare the meal differently next time? Can you substitute simple swaps to nourish your body differently the next time you prepare this meal? For meals eaten out, can you prepare the meal similarly at home? Can you request substitutes for simple swaps to nourish your body differently the next time you order the meal? Slowing down the pace of our meal helps us be more aware of the meal we are eating. It gives us a moment to sit, eat, and reflect. Time is so valuable to capture these nourishing details.
Now that we know some reasons as to why we want to slow down our meals, let’s discuss some tips about how we can slow down our meal pace. One approach is to put your fork or spoon down in-between bites. If your meal has finger foods, you may choose to place your hands in your lap in-between bites. This habit may take practice, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be enjoying your meal one bite at a time.
You may also find it helpful to avoid cutting up your meal at the beginning. Instead, choose to slice or cut each bite individually as you eat your meal. This will help to slow down the meal time and allow you to be mindful of your pace.
Another tip you may find useful is to use your non-dominant hand when eating. Often times, we may rush through our meals using our dominant hand without taking a break. Sometimes we have our next bite loaded on our fork before we’re mid-way through chewing our current bite. Due to lack of coordination, our non-dominant hand often slows down the pace of our meal naturally.
As we know, we can’t always control where we eat, including our busy schedules. But, if you find yourself eating on the run or in a short period of time, try to maximize that time and lengthen your eating pace within the time you have. For example, if you only have a 30-minute lunch break and you typically finish your meal in the first 10 minutes, work to pace and lengthen your meal to take the full 25-30 minutes you have. If you find yourself eating in the car in-between errands, the tips above can help to lengthen your meal.
Enjoy your food and any company that may be joining you in-between bites. If you’re alone, savor the meal and note the characteristics we discussed earlier. Engage in conversation or think about your meal. Your new pace will allow you to reflect on your appetite, emotions, and overall feelings about the meal.
Every person has their own individual nutrition goals. The few tips reviewed here are just a short list of the full toolbox that you and your Nuleeu Registered Dietitian can use to help focus on meal and snack time pace. Not all tips work for every individual, so working closely with your consultant will bring you the most individualized success to meet your goals and improve your mindfulness at meals. Touch base with the your Nuleeu Registered Dietitian to review your current mindfulness and brainstorm additional tips of how to improve mealtime mindfulness overall.